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Zambia goes to polls as campaign unrest tests stability

Zambians went to the polls Thursday to choose a new president after a campaign marred by "unprecedented" violence that has threatened the country`s relative stability and raised fears of further clashes.



LusakaZambians went to the polls Thursday to choose a new president after a campaign marred by "unprecedented" violence that has threatened the country`s relative stability and raised fears of further clashes.

Radio stations appealed for voters to remain peaceful as they cast their ballots for the national assembly and local councillors, as well as the presidency.

Just 18 months after President Edgar Lungu narrowly won office in a snap election, he and his main rival Hakainde Hichilema face off again in a field of nine candidates.

Only 27,757 votes separated the two candidates in the 2015 ballot.

At least three people were killed during the campaign, with regular clashes erupting between supporters of Lungu`s Patriotic Front (PF) and Hichilema`s United Party for National Development (UPND).

Ahead of the vote, the election commission issued an emergency statement describing the unrest as "unprecedented" and warning it had "marred Zambia`s historic record of peaceful elections".

Last month, campaigning was halted in the capital Lusaka for 10 days to reduce the violence, though skirmishes continued until polling day, including fighting in the streets and vehicles overturned close to Hichilema`s final rally on Wednesday in Lusaka.

But as voters continued to line up Thursday afternoon, no violent incidents had been reported.

"The violence has been bad, but I hope there will be peace whatever the result," Phiri Vekani told AFP.

An unemployed UPND supporter, he believed Hichilema would bring much needed jobs.

"He is a businessman and business is the way forward. I want to work in a big company and he can bring that here."

Katherine Mutya, 38, spent three hours in line waiting to cast her vote.

"For me I think life is getting better," she said.

"We need to get more electricity and water, but it is happening slowly."

Constitutional changes mean that the winner must now secure more than 50 percent of the vote, meaning a second round run-off could be held within weeks, raising the spectre of further hostilities.

"The PF government of President Lungu is starting to panic as the UPND campaign gains sustained momentum," said Robert Besseling, of EXX Africa consultancy.

"The probability of a contested election result is growing, which would undermine the credibility of the vote and trigger more widespread partisan violence."Zambia, in contrast to neighbours like Angola and Zimbabwe, has escaped war and serious upheaval since independence from Britain in 1964.

It last held a peaceful transfer of power to an opposition party in 2011 when Michael Sata took office.

Sata died of an undisclosed illness in 2014 and the 2015 election gave Lungu, 59, the right to finish Sata`s term.

At his final rally, Lungu mocked Hichilema for being a wealthy businessman who is making his fifth bid for power.

From Zee News

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